Deadly apartment fire investigated
Two civil lawsuits filed in Clark Circuit Court allege negligence and dangerous conditions regarding a March 11 apartment fire in which three people died and other residents were displaced.
Both lawsuits name as defendants B&P Apartments Inc., the company that owned the building, and Jackie Hisle Jr., 55, a former tenant who has been charged with three counts of manslaughter.
One lawsuit was filed this week on behalf of Ervin Reynolds, the husband and administrator of the estate of Tina Reynolds, 29, who died in the fire. The lawsuit says Ervin Reynolds was able to jump out of a second-floor window but was injured in the fall.
The other lawsuit was filed in late March on behalf of Eric Everman and the estate of Dixie Everman, 71, who also died. That lawsuit says Eric Everman jumped from a second-floor window “to prevent himself from being burned alive.” Dixie Everman also jumped but died later at a hospital.
Hisle’s son, Donald, 36, also died in the fire.
The fire started in Hisle’s apartment as he was drinking and smoking a cigarette near an oxygen machine that had labels warning that no smoking was to occur near it, a Winchester police detective testified during a March preliminary hearing.
Other residents in the apartment complex had warned Hisle not to smoke near the machine because they knew him “to be a bad alcoholic,” detective Tom Beall testified. Hisle had gone to a neighboring apartment to warn residents about the fire.
The Reynolds lawsuit says that B&P Apartments “knew or should have known” that Hisle smoked near his oxygen machine. The Everman lawsuit says that B&P “knew or should have known” that Hisle “was not capable of managing the flammable and explosive material.”
The Reynolds lawsuit also says that a smoke alarm didn’t sound an alarm during the fire. The Everman lawsuit says that there were “inadequate sprinkler systems, smoke alarms, smoke detectors and an inadequate evacuation plan or means of escape for the occupants in the event of a fire.” B&P Apartments denies those allegations in its answer to the Everman suit; no answer had been filed Friday morning on the Reynolds suit.
The Reynolds lawsuit says that local government records show that John Hall, the building owner at the time it was built, “was to complete fire stops with fire separation of one hour,” but that the “stops were not properly installed … if installed at all.” Hall also is a defendant in the Reynolds suit.
Fire stops are physical barriers designed to stop the spread of flames. A fire-stop rating is expressed in hours and specifies the time that a barrier can withstand fire before being consumed or before permitting the passage of flame.
James Tackett of Bourbon County, who owns the apartment complex with his wife, Kathy, said on the day of the fire that each unit is equipped with a smoke detector.
About half the units in the complex have government-subsidized rents through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development or through a local community service organization. HUD performs an annual inspection on those units, he said.
“They won’t pass inspection unless they have smoke detectors,” Tackett said at the time. “They will come over and do an inspection” before a new tenant who qualifies for rental assistance moves in.
But residents have been known to take the detectors down or remove the batteries from them because the detectors will sound when people are cooking, Tackett said.
Both suits seek a trial by jury in Clark Circuit Court.